Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
FROM THE PRISON TO THE PALACE
Genesis xl: 1, to xli: 44.
HE men who bought Joseph from his brothers were called
Ishmaelites, because they belonged to the family of
Ishmael, who, you remember, was the son of Hagar, the
servant of Sarah (Story 9). These men carried Joseph
southward over the plain which lies beside the great
sea on the west of Canaan; and after many days they
brought Joseph to Egypt. How strange it must have
seemed to the boy who had lived in tents, to see the
great river Nile, and the cities, thronged with people,
and the temples, and the mighty pyramids!
A GREAT TEMPLE IN EGYPT
The Ishmaelites sold Joseph as a slave to a man named
Potiphar, who was an officer in the army of Pharaoh,
the king of Egypt. Joseph was a beautiful boy, and
cheerful and willing in his spirit, and able in all
that he undertook; so that his master, Potiphar, became
very friendly to him, and after a time he placed Joseph
in charge of his house, and everything in it. For some
years Joseph continued in the house of Potiphar, a
slave in name, but in reality the master of all his
affairs, and ruler over his fellow-servants.
But Potiphar's wife, who at first was very friendly to
Joseph, afterward became his enemy, because Joseph
would not do wrong to please her. She told her husband
falsely that Joseph had done a wicked deed. Her husband
believed her, and was very angry at Joseph, and put him
in the prison with those who had been sent to that
place for breaking the laws of the land. How hard it
was for Joseph to be charged with a crime, when he had
done no wrong, and to be thrust into a dark prison
among wicked people!
But Joseph had faith in God, that at some time all
would come out right: and in the prison he was
cheerful, and kind, and helpful, as he had always been.
The keeper of the prison saw that Joseph was not like
the other men around him, and he was kind to Joseph.
 In a very little while Joseph was placed in charge of
all his fellow-prisoners, and took care of them; just
as he had taken care of everything in Potiphar's house.
The keeper of the prison scarcely looked into the
prison at all, for he had confidence in Joseph, that he
would be faithful and wise in doing the work given to
him. Joseph did right, and served God; and God blessed
Joseph in everything.
While Joseph was in prison, two men were sent there by
the king of Egypt, because he was displeased with them.
One was the king's chief butler, who served the king
with wine; the other was the chief baker, who served
him with bread. These two men were under Joseph's care,
and Joseph waited on them, for they were men of rank.
One morning, when Joseph came into the room in the
prison where the butler and the baker were kept, he
found them looking quite sad. Joseph said to them:
"Why do you look so sad to-day?" Joseph was cheerful
 happy in his spirit, and he wished others to be happy,
even in prison.
And one of the men said, "Each one of us dreamed last
night a very strange dream; and there is no one to tell
us what our dreams mean."
For in those times, before God gave the Bible to men,
he often spoke to men in dreams; and there were wise
men, who could sometimes tell what the dreams meant.
"Tell me," said Joseph, "what your dreams were. Perhaps
my God will help me to understand them."
Then the chief butler told his dream. He said, "In my
dream I saw a grape-vine with three branches; and as I
looked the branches shot out buds, and the buds became
blossoms, and the blossoms turned into clusters of ripe
grapes. And I picked the grapes, and squeezed their
juice into King Pharaoh's cup, and it became wine; and
I gave it to King Pharaoh to drink, just as I used to
do when I was beside his table."
Then Joseph said, "This is what your dream means. The
three branches mean three days. In three days King
Pharaoh will call you out of prison, and will put you
back in your place; and you shall stand at his table,
and shall give him his wine, as you have given it
before. But when you go out of prison, please to
remember me, and try to find some way to get me, too,
out of this prison. For I was stolen out of the land of
Canaan, and sold as a slave; and I have done nothing
wrong, to deserve being put in this prison. Do speak to
the king for me, that I may be set free."
Of course the chief butler felt very happy to hear that
his dream had so pleasant a meaning; and then the chief
baker spoke, hoping to have an answer as good.
"In my dream," said the baker, "there were three
baskets of white bread on my head, one above the other,
and on the topmost basket were all kinds of roasted
meat and food for Pharaoh; and the birds came, and ate
the food from the baskets on my head."
And Joseph said to the baker:
"This is the meaning of your dream, and I am sorry to
tell it to you. The three baskets are three days. In
three days, by order of the king, you shall be lifted
up, and hanged upon a tree; and the birds shall eat
your flesh from your bones as you are hanging in the
 And it came to pass, just as Joseph had said. Three
days after that, King Pharaoh sent his officers to the
prison. They came and took out both the chief butler
and the chief baker. The baker they hung up by his neck
to die, and left his body for the birds to pick in
pieces. The chief butler they brought back to his old
place, where he waited at the king's table, and handed
him his wine to drink.
You would have supposed that the butler would remember
Joseph, who had given him the promise of freedom, and
had shown such wisdom. But in his gladness, he forgot
all about Joseph. And two full years passed by, while
Joseph was still in prison, until he was a man thirty
But one night, King Pharaoh himself dreamed a dream, in
fact two dreams in one. And in the morning he sent for
all the wise men of Egypt, and told them his dreams;
but there was not a man who could give the meaning of
them. And the king was troubled, for he felt that the
dreams had some meaning, which it was important for him
Then suddenly the chief butler, who was by the king's
table, remembered his own dream, in the prison two
years before, and remembered, too, the young man who
had told its meaning so exactly. And he said:
"I do remember my faults this day. Two years ago King
Pharaoh was angry with his servants, with me and the
chief baker, and he sent us to the prison. While we
were in the prison, one night each of us dreamed a dream,
and the next day a young man in the prison, a Hebrew
from the land of Canaan, told us what our dreams meant;
and in three days they came true, just as the Hebrew
had said. I think that, if this young man is in the
prison still, he could tell the king the meaning of his
You notice that the butler spoke of Joseph as "a
Hebrew." The people of Israel, to whom Joseph belonged,
were called Hebrews as well as Israelites. The word
Hebrew means "one who crossed over," and it was given
to the Israelites, because Abraham their father, had
come from a land on the other side of the great river
Euphrates, and had crossed over the river on his way to
Then King Pharaoh sent in haste to the prison for
Joseph; and Joseph was taken out, and he was dressed in
new garments, and was led in to Pharaoh in the palace.
And Pharaoh said to
 Joseph: "I have dreamed a dream, and there is no one
who can tell what it means. And I have been told that
you have power to understand dreams and what they
And Joseph answered Pharaoh: "The power is not in me;
but God will give Pharaoh a good answer. What is the
dream that the king has dreamed?"
JOSEPH BEFORE PHARAOH
"In my first dream," said Pharaoh, "I was standing by
the river; and I saw seven fat and handsome cows come
up from the river to feed in the grass. And while they
were feeding, seven other cows followed them up from
the river, very thin, and poor, and lean, such
miserable creatures as I had never seen. And the seven
lean cows ate up the seven fat cows; and after they had
eaten them, they were as lean and miserable as before.
Then I awoke.
 "And I fell asleep again, and dreamed again. In my
second dream, I saw seven heads of grain growing upon
one stalk, large, and strong, and good. And then seven
heads came up after them, that were thin, and poor, and
withered. And the seven thin heads swallowed up the
seven good heads, and afterward were as poor and
withered as before.
"And I told these two dreams to all the wise men, and
there is no one who can tell me their meaning. Can you
tell me what these dreams mean?"
And Joseph said to the king:
"The two dreams have the same meaning. God has been
showing to King Pharaoh what he will do in this land.
The seven good cows mean seven years, and the seven
good heads of grain mean the same seven years. The
seven lean cows, and the seven thin heads of grain also
mean seven years. The good cows and the good grain mean
seven years of plenty, and the seven thin cows and thin
heads of grain mean seven poor years. There are coming
upon the land of Egypt seven years of such plenty as
have never been seen; when the fields shall bring
greater crops than ever before; and after those years
shall come seven years when the fields shall bring no
crops at all. And then for seven years there shall be
such need, that the years of plenty will be forgotten,
for the people will have nothing to eat.
"Now, let King Pharaoh find some man who is able and
wise, and let him set this man to rule over the land.
And during the seven years of plenty, let a part of the
crops be put away for the years of need. If this shall
be done, then when the years of need come there will be
plenty of food for all the people, and no one will
suffer, and all will have enough."
JOSEPH TELLING PHARAOH THE MEANING OF HIS DREAM
And King Pharoah said to Joseph:
"Since God has shown you all this; there is no other
man as wise as you. I will appoint you to do this work,
and to rule over the land of Egypt. All the people
shall be under you; only on the throne of Egypt, I will
be above you."
And Pharaoh took from his own hand the ring which held
his seal, and put it on Joseph's hand, so that he could
sign for the king, and seal in the king's place. And he
dressed Joseph in robes of fine linen, and put around
his neck a gold chain. And he made Joseph ride in a
chariot which was next in rank to his
 own. And they cried out before Joseph, "Bow the knee."
And thus Joseph was ruler over all the land of Egypt.
So the slave boy, who was sent to prison without
deserving it, came out of prison to be a prince and a
master over all the land. You see that God had not
forgotten Joseph, even when he seemed to have left him